From homelessness or joblessness to feelings of political helplessness, every participant in the Occupy Philly demonstration has a different story for how he or she wound up living in tents outside City Hall, enduring occasional rain and increasing cold to join the protest movement.
In interviews this weekend, half a dozen said they were prepared to continue their protest indefinitely. To most of them, it did not seem to matter much if they were on Dilworth Plaza, on the west side of City Hall, or another location approved by the city.
"We're just playing it by ear," said Jared Williams, 36, a part-time administrator for a doctor's office who spends several nights a week sleeping overnight in a semi-insulated "warming hut" on the City Hall apron, near the corner of 15th Street and JFK Boulevard.
"We'll continue in whatever way we can," Williams said. "We'll cooperate with the city as much as possible if it will allow the movement to flourish."
The warming hut used to be adorned with a big campaign poster for Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul, but Williams and colleagues moved the poster inside to depoliticize their location.
Williams, who still shares an apartment in Pennsport with his girlfriend, describes himself as "very much libertarian." His biggest hopes for the Occupy movement are to fight "corporate control of the government," raise awareness and end the Federal Reserve system, and reduce U.S. military engagements around the world.
Ally Nauss, 24, was living in an apartment in West Philadelphia, working for a corporation in the hospitality business, and sharing custody of her 21/2-year-old daughter, Rhys. She spent the first weekend of October checking out the Occupy Wall Street project in New York City - the weekend that 700 people were arrested for taking over the Brooklyn Bridge.
Nauss returned to Philadelphia to learn that she had lost her job. "Word had spread that I was politically active," she said, though she said her boss had another explanation. She now spends three or four nights a week at Dilworth Plaza, accompanied by a new husband, Adam Hill, whom she met at the protest and married two weeks ago.
"I'm here almost 24/7, except the nights when I have Rhys, we go back to the apartment," said Nauss, who grew up in Maine but has spent the last four years in Philadelphia. Her top political priorities, she says, are reducing the power of money in the nation's political system, trying to reduce corporate influence, reallocating the government's spending priorities, and promoting the protest movement itself.
Anthony Van, 40, has a girlfriend and a 9-year-old son living in an efficiency in Norristown, but he spends his nights and most days distributing donated food from a shelter on the north side of City Hall.
The main point of his protest, Van says, is to urge more government support for the homeless, which he used to be. "There are many properties they could turn into housing, but instead they're shutting places down," he said.
Van has a degree in culinary arts from Eastern Kentucky State and years of experience as a cook, he said, but he has had trouble getting a job because of a conviction in Tennessee for marijuana possession - 162 pounds of it. He now travels out to Norristown two or three days a week for $7.25-an-hour day jobs, arranged by an agency dealing with the hard-to-employ - "ditch-digging, office work, anything they want me to do," Van said.
Emmanuel Bussie, 46, the owner of an information-technology business, continues to spend his nights in a relatively comfortable Brewerytown rowhouse. But he has been commuting to City Hall most evenings to participate in Occupy Philly's organizational meetings and general assemblies.
"I get off work, go to the protest, and come back home," he said. "It's more than the protest; it's the planning we're intimately involved in, trying to create a national model to transform urban America. . . . We want to add what everybody complains is missing - a strategy, a plan, a program that the nation can adopt."
Bussie hopes to focus national attention on education. "It's one of the pillars our country was built on," he said.
Like the others, Bussie said it did not matter whether the protest stayed near City Hall or moved to other locations. "We don't need a specific piece of concrete to make good things happen," he said. "It makes no difference."
Bussie said he was frustrated, however, at how slowly Occupy Philly was making decisions. "We've got to change the mind-set, have less complaining, and get some tangible stuff done, as opposed to talking about what our problems are," he said.
Tyler Dunn, 26, is a former Lancaster County schoolteacher, a graduate of Kutztown University who gave up a job teaching seventh-grade English a couple of years ago. After traveling west, working occasionally in restaurants, he says he was "technically homeless," living with a former girlfriend and other friends, until he pitched a tent near the southwest corner of City Hall six weeks ago.
Dunn said he joined Occupy Philly to protest a variety of issues, including hunger, homelessness, racial discord, and excessive corporate profits, but he has come to believe that the demonstration has value in itself. "This is a movement about bringing people together, not just about one issue," he said. ". . . We have to show solidarity and unity and turn that into kinetic energy."
Hollister Knowlton, 62, a Quaker, organized an Interfaith Working Group, now offering five religious events each week. She spends virtually every day at Occupy Philly, at an Interfaith tent near 15th and JFK, but commutes back to Chestnut Hill most nights.
"We want to turn this moment into a movement," Knowlton said, borrowing a line she said she heard from another speaker. "All these people are committed to change, but they are starting to realize there's more tactics and strategy than just camping out."
Knowlton said her personal goals for the protest involved conservation of the world's resources and fighting poverty. "We call ourselves a Christian nation, but we've lost sight of that," she said. "Jesus told us to take care of the poor, and we're not doing that."